Browsing From the Pastor's Desk

Scandal and the Church, Part II

Aug 30, 2018

Today, as I’m writing this column, the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People, a committee created in 2002 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a sternly worded press release that called for an independent lay-led investigation into all allegations of sexual misconduct in the Church.

The statement said that, while the policies and procedures that have been implemented by the Church since 2002 to address the sexual abuse of minors by the clergy have resulted in a significant decrease of such abuse, the evil of crimes that have been perpetuated reach the highest levels of the hierarchy and cannot be simply addressed with procedural and structural changes. The Board called for a genuine change in the Church’s culture and singled out the bishops as particularly in need of change, noting that it was not just minors who were the victims of abuse.

It stated that this evil has resulted from a loss of moral leadership and an abuse of power that led to a culture of silence that enabled these incidents to occur… Intimidation, fear, and the misuse of authority created an environment that was taken advantage of by clerics, including bishops, causing harm to minors, seminarians, and those most vulnerable.

The culture of silence in the Church hierarchy, the Board said, led to the abuse running virtually unchecked. The need to hold bishops accountable requires, according to the statement, an independent review into the actions of a bishop following any allegation, and this can only be ensured by entrusting it to laity. Since the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released this statement, we have reason to hope that the board’s recommendations will be followed. As it says, we must take concrete action to address the systemic problems underlying the problem of sexual abuse in the Church.

Someday, we will get past all of this. At last week’s Parish staff meeting, I was made aware that parishioners have been asking questions and for information on two matters.

You may have noticed a report from the Catholic News Service published in the Saint Louis Review in its Aug. 20-26 issue. A U.K. government-backed investigation concluded that the sexual abuse of children as young as 7 was covered up in two Benedictine-run schools in England, Ampleforth Abbey and Downside Abbey, to protect the reputations of predatory monks. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse said in a report published Aug. 9 that for decades there was a “culture of acceptance of abuse behavior” at the monasteries, which remained reluctant to report crimes to the police even after stringent child protection procedures were implemented in the Catholic Church in England and Wales. The report stated that monks in both institutions were very often secretive, evasive, and suspicious of anyone outside the English Benedictine Congregation. The report revealed that 10 monks from both communities have been prosecuted for child abuse or for viewing child pornography.

Saint Louis Abbey was founded from Ampleforth by some deeply dedicated and holy men, and we are fortunate they did not found a boarding school. The English boarding school has a somewhat checkered history, as does the American boarding school, both of which provide opportunities for abuse to occur. You may have noticed the news report just this last weekend that 11 former staffers at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire have been accused of sexual misconduct with students over several decades. The report released by the school also found that school administrators failed to act on complaints of abuse and, in several cases, never recorded the complaints of wrongdoing in personnel files—allowing teachers to be hired elsewhere despite concerns about their behavior.

It is clear enough that sexual misconduct is not just a Catholic problem, but a human one. Our responsibility is to clean up our share of it. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in Great Britain started with the Catholic Benedictine schools, but it is continuing to look into others. The Pennsylvania Grand Jury investigated problems in that state. Archbishop Carlson and other Missouri bishops have invited the Missouri Attorney General to conduct a review of the present situation here; the Missouri bishops have confidence they are handling matters correctly now but want to be absolutely sure and absolutely transparent. The National Review Board wants to make sure that is the case everywhere.

Likewise, you may have heard or seen in the June 11-17 issue of the Saint Louis Review the news about our Father Maximilian Toczylowski. He was director of the junior school here at Saint Louis Priory School and was removed from his roles at the school after inappropriate images were found on his laptop computer. This was disclosed in a May 31 letter to parents from Father Gregory, then the Headmaster, which stated the images were found during a routine review of electronic devices used by school staff. The images were downloaded from the internet, and the subjects involved were not associated with the school. School officials contacted the Creve Coeur Police Department on May 30. Archbishop Carlson has removed Father Maximillian’s priestly faculties, meaning he is not allowed to function or represent himself as a priest. He has also been removed from the campus of Saint Louis Abbey while the investigation is taking place. Neither the school nor Saint Louis Abbey has received any complaints of inappropriate behavior against Father Maximillian. At present, Father Maximilian’s situation remains unchanged. The authorities are still determining if charges will be filed in his case.

The school held a counselor-facilitated session for parents at Priory on June 4 and is in the process of holding them for students.

Lots to think about. So if you want to talk about all this, ask questions, vent, or whatever, we will be having a Town Hall Meeting for this purpose on Wednesday, Sept. 5, at 7 p.m. in our Parish Center. I invite you to attend. We will get through all this together.

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